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FCC chief’s swan song: in-flight broadband

In-flight Broadband

Better broadband just might be coming to a middle seat near you.

Julius Genachowski is preparing to exit the top spot at the Federal Communications Commission, and it looks like he’s planning on going out with a crowd-pleasing finale. Gadget junkies rejoice – the FCC is looking at a new rule to expand broadband access for airline passengers in flight.

Right now, airlines can offer Internet connections through satellite services to passengers – sometimes charging for the privilege. The FCC is looking at dedicating a swath of radio spectrum in the 14.0-14.5 gigahertz band for an “Air-Ground Mobile Broadband service.” The spectrum is currently used by amateur radio operators.

Genachowski has long been critical of restrictions governing the use of electronic devices including tablets and e-readers in flights during takeoff and landing. Last year he urged the Federal Aviation Administration to change its policies on devices in a letter to agency head Michael Huerta.

Now the FCC is poised to allow the deployment of in-flight broadband, pending a new rulemaking, which will kick off at the agency’s May 9 open meeting. The notice of proposed rulemaking would be followed by a lot of technical discussion among industry stakeholders. If the FCC votes to approve the spectrum allocation, a spectrum auction would follow before the launch of a commercial service. Assuming such an offering does get off the ground, it could provide connection speeds comparable to home broadband. Chinese firm ZTE recently announced the successful test of such a system, with speeds in excess of 12 megabits per second.

Admittedly, this is not a federal IT issue per se -- agency-controlled sprectrum is being eyed for different uses entirely -- but what computer-toting traveller isn't interested in airborn broadband?

Posted by Adam Mazmanian on Apr 19, 2013 at 12:10 PM


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